After only 10 transfers in three years, 30 Muslim men still languish
January 9, 2023 – As we approach the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement:
In October, while pledging unconditional support for its brutal campaign in Gaza, President Biden urged Israel not to replicate the “mistakes” the United States made after 9/11. While his warning may have been apt, his use of the past tense was not. The prison at Guantánamo Bay is one of those mistakes, willfully perpetuated by the Biden administration each day it remains open. Site and symbol of U.S. torture, Islamophobia, and lawlessness, the prison turns 22 on Thursday. Thirty men remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. They include our clients, Sharqawi Al Hajj and Guled Hassan Duran, who, like most of the men still there, have been approved for transfer, and who, like the vast majority of the nearly 800 people detained there over the years, have never been charged with a crime.
Although President Biden, like Obama before him, has pledged to close the prison, the Biden administration has transferred only 10 men in three years. This failure looks all the more egregious at this moment, as Biden’s enabling of Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians stirs anger in the United States and across the world. His acceptance of suffering and death, especially of a predominantly Muslim population, under the guise of “national security” recalls the worst abuses of the U.S. “War on Terror” and is an extension of it. Guantánamo, after all, has held only Muslim men and boys, a manifestation of a war that Muslim communities in the U.S. and across the globe have borne the brunt of. The tactics and propaganda of this “War on Terror,” and two decades of impunity, have served as a model for other repressive governments seeking to quash dissent and resistance. Recent scenes of mass round-ups, forced nudity, and humiliation of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank sickeningly mirror images of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. This is not the first time Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has drawn such comparisons, although the sharing of brutal “terror war” tactics goes both ways.
By closing the prison, Biden would take a stand against some of the unjust policies and anti-Muslim narratives that still underlie “counterterrorism” efforts in the U.S., and much to the U.S.’s credit, beyond. Shutting down Guantánamo would not close the books on the post-9/11 era – only accountability and a public reckoning of the damage done could do that – but it is a crucial step toward that end. Closure of the prison, which would require bringing an end to the failed military commissions system, may also bring a measure of closure to 9/11 families, who, for 22 years, have been asked to believe the lie that torture-tainted trials would deliver justice. There has been no justice, only mistakes.
While Guantanamo is situated within a broader context with which we must reckon, closure of the prison itself needs no deeper analysis. More than half of those who remain are men the United States itself does not believe need to be detained. The fact that they continue to languish after two decades is a cruelty that could end tomorrow.
While the prison persists, so too does the longstanding effort to close it, waged by a global coalition that includes men imprisoned at Guantánamo, their families, and survivors. We’re proud to be part of this coalition, whose solidarity and advocacy has forged enormous progress over the years. With the prison’s population reduced by 96 percent, the end of this house of horrors is in sight and within reach. For the less than a dozen men who have been charged, the Biden administration must negotiate agreements to bring an end to their cases in the military system. For all of the remaining thirty men, it must work with other countries to resettle or repatriate them. This has been done before. The Biden administration needs no new authority or ideas. All it needs is the political will and a willingness to do the work. The Biden administration can use this pivotal year to turn its failures into action and finally close the prison.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.